The only reason why mass surveillance works is because most of our communications are being sent in plain text, as easily read as you are reading this very article. Whether this is done willingly by the service provider or maliciously by the Government using devices and exploits without their knowledge, Encryption will keep (some of) your rights in tact, for now.
While I do admit there is a modest barrier to entry into the realm of secure communications, there is a number of ‘Out of the Box’ solutions emerging to attempt to reduce this barrier. I will detail these still in development solutions in the footer, and cover some of the more established solutions that require a small amount of setup next. (With a pictorial guide)
Secure instant messaging: Pidgin (w OTR plugin, Mobile users Get ChatSecure for Android or ChatSecure for iOS.)
Hide your IP (with exceptions!): Tor (Mobile users Get Orbot for Android.)
Encrypted GSM/SMS: TextSecure & RedPhone (Android only, iOS users get Signal 2.0)
Pidgin is a messaging client that supports numerous protocols. The one I will focus on is XMPP, previously known as Jabber. The XMPP server I use is creep.im, You can add me using firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is a list of many XMPP servers.
There is no reason Pidgin shouldn’t be the MSN or ICQ of this decade. Most people have resigned to using Facebook for their messaging needs, But this is a horribly insecure centralized target for … pretty much everyone. XMPP allows you to use any number of servers in any number of countries to route your conversations thru, all with full encryption.
Fill out the form as shown below, using your own username and password.
I am using Tor in this example. Simply Install Tor and run it, The defaults will work. If you don’t want to do this, select ‘No Proxy’. The main benefit here with Tor (or any proxy) is maintaining your location security from whomever you selected to handle your chat (creep.im in the example)
If all goes well you will get this screen. This is your actual registration so remember your password.
Confirmation that all is well.
When someone adds you, This is what it will look like.
The OTR plugin gives further security by providing even more encryption and buddy authentication via secret phrases and questions. But even just using Pidgin over say regular Facebook is a huge improvement.
With the OTR plugin installed, Go to Tools -> Plugins in Pidgin, Select ‘Off the Record Messaging and hit ‘Configure Plugin’ – Now press ‘Generate’
If all goes well.
Now you will notice a new menu when chatting with Buddies and some new notices
There are a variety of methods of ‘authenticating’ a buddy. The simplest is ‘Manual Fingerprint Verification’ – For your first time encountering people, this is good. It will ensure that your communicating with the same person on the same machine you originally added.
Alternatively there is a secret question and answer. This is good for people you know well. If you know them well enough you won’t even need to tell them the answer 🙂
And thats all there is to getting started with Pidgin.
A project that is currently in development I’ve been keeping an eye on is uTox. It allows for sharing of your desktop, a webcam, pictures, or just regular chat. All securely with encryption by design. Even better is that it is ‘zero configuration’ – You open it and you start chatting. No account or signup or registration.
From their Github
“With the rise of governmental monitoring programs, Tox, a FOSS initiative, aims to be an easy to use, all-in-one communication platform that ensures their users full privacy and secure message delivery.
The goal of this project is to create a configuration-free P2P Skype replacement. “Configuration-free” means that the user will simply have to open the program and will be capable of adding people and communicating with them without having to set up an account. There are many so-called Skype replacements, but all of them are either hard to configure for the normal user or suffer from being way too centralized.”
Windows uTox Updater (installs uTox if it isn’t already)
You will end up with a ridiculously long ‘Tox ID’ – For example, mine is 1E64DB1DFAEA2DBDE2204826CE649DA8A6BEC90C93BA16B7F557228B48FF234A1CD1876F268C. You can make this more human readable at www.ToxMe.se My human readable Tox ID is email@example.com
Another project worth watching is BitTorrent Inc’s Bleep which is basically the same thing as uTox. Currently Bleep ‘looks’ better, but Tox has many more functions at the moment. Add me on Bleep with this slightly less ridiculously long string: 32969203ae7c11f935ea0b3b561656eed0d891d57da9ecf7641e91a50769cc69
Governments will eventually break these encryptions or make them ‘illegal’ and brand everyone using them a thought criminal and/or terrorist. But until that happens, Any one of these tools are effective ways to thwart mass surveillance and take back at least a little bit of your privacy. For now.
Nigel Todman is an Independent Journalist, Technical Consultant, Social Activist, Web Developer and Computer Programmer from Ontario, Canada. Add him to Facebook and/or Follow him on Twitter E-mail: nigel [at] naaij [dot] org [PGP]